This is when creativity can take a psychopathic turn

This new study on the subject proposes the following plainly:  “Threats lead to more malevolent creativity and less creativity in threat-irrelevant domains.”

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New research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin explores some of the grimmer ideations of imagination. The study’s abstract begins by detailing the many fruits of malevolent creativity,  “ingenious weapons, novel torture practices,  and creative terrorist attacks.”

The authors correctly locate the odd way in which experts eagerly recognize the difference in psychological origin of well-meaning and malevolent creativity, but few have cared to actually address it.


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Sparse research conducted in the past has suggested that sometimes that apple upon Newton’s head, sets in motion vehicles of cruelty and aggression; “a readiness to fight.” This new study on the subject proposes, the following plainly:  “Threats lead to more malevolent creativity and less creativity in threat-irrelevant domains.”

The methodology

To further this postulation, researchers had to first evoke the threat of exploitation.  They did so, by altering slightly, the classic Prisoner’s dilemma.

Two members from the same gang get incarcerated. Each prisoner is kept in a private cell with no way of reaching the other. The prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to convict the two criminals on the primary charge, but they have enough to convict both on a lesser charge. Each gang member gets presented with a bargain:  betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime or cooperate with the other by remaining silent.

If prisoner A and B both testify against each other, both serve two years. If A betrays  B, but B remains silent, A walks while B gets the max sentence. If both remain silent they both get two years.

The researchers applied this to 192 college students, only they modified the stakes. Instead of prison time, the students were meant to play for a hypothetical amount of money. Participants in “high threat situations”, risked losing a substantial amount of money if one of their team members defected by reason of self-interest, while those in “low-threat” situations” stood to lose a much smaller sum of money.

Participants were additionally encouraged to utilize hypothetical bricks as a means of intimidation and negotiation. The study concludes, “Social threat reduced nonthreat-related creative ideation only in Study 1. Study 2 showed that the increase of malevolent creativity was due to the motivation to defend and aggress, and emerged especially among individuals with a high need for cognition.”

Two studies proved the higher the threat, the more malevolent the means of using a brick to get team members to corporate. Higher threat level groups also tended to employ particularly aggressive negotiation tactics. As the study’s lead author, Matthijs Baas of The University Of Amsterdam explained to Psypost

“When people are threatened by others, they are more motivated to defend themselves and aggress — and they think of more malevolent ideas as a result. So social threat seems to be one factor that is involved in malevolent creativity,”


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.